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Pioneering facial surgery

paving the way for modern plastic surgery South East,

Drawing of two faces, each at a different stage of plastic surgery. Skin is taken from the chest to cover an injury on the cheek.
Diagrams showing principles of plastic surgery to the face, with pedicle 'tubed', from Plastic Surgery of the Face, by H D Gillies, 1920. Wellcome Library, London

The origins of modern plastic surgery, now in everyday use to repair a damaged body, can be traced to one of the greatest conflicts of the 20th century. 

With the outbreak of the First World War, surgeon Harold Gillies (1882-1960) joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. While in France he became interested in how plastic surgery could be applied to facial injuries. Having met an American-French dentist, Charles Auguste Valadier, he was enthused by the other’s efforts to replace jaws damaged by gunshot wounds. Gillies was particularly interested in aesthetics - trying to make patients look like they did before - as well as function. 

On returning to England he opened wards at the military hospital in Aldershot where, following the Battle of the Somme in 1916, he treated 2000 cases of jaw and facial mutilation. The following year he oversaw the opening of Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, which was dedicated to treating facial injuries with plastic surgery. In 1946 he and a colleague carried out one of the first sex reassignment procedures from female to male. Gillies is considered by many to be the father of plastic surgery. 

Science Museum

South East
Sidcup, Kent
Key Individuals
Harold Gillies,